Vos, Nygren (copy)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, right, says a deflated fiscal outlook won't prevent lawmakers from restoring education spending cuts proposed by Gov. Scott Walker. Joint Finance Committee co-chairman John Nygren, R-Marinette, is at left.

Photos by JOHN HART — State Journal

Republican leaders are bickering through their efforts to reach an agreement on transportation funding in the state budget.

Republican leaders in the state Assembly are asking Joint Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, to walk back statements they say are "false" and "disingenuous." 

Darling told WisPolitics.com on Thursday she believes her Assembly counterparts on the Joint Finance Committee want to delay construction on the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee to pressure the Senate into supporting a hike in the gas tax or registration fees.

Gov. Scott Walker's budget calls for $1.3 billion in borrowing to fund road projects. To that, Republican lawmakers have said no way. But while they refuse to support the governor’s proposed level of bonding, Walker says he won’t approve an increase in registration fees or the gas tax.

Both Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, have said they'd like to see the level of bonding cut by $800 million, to about $500 million in borrowing. 

They've both stressed the importance of making sure transportation projects throughout the state feel the effects of the cuts as equally as possible.

Darling told WisPolitics she's open to an $800 million cut in the govenror's request, but she believes if the Zoo Interchange is impacted by that cut, it would jeopardize safety and the economy.

Darling also said if the Zoo project is delayed, she thinks Assembly Republicans are concerned constituents in southeastern Wisconsin would "come running" asking for an increase in the gas tax or fee increase.

"Throughout the budget process, Assembly Republicans have put forth a position that the state must pay up front for its road improvements and not just run up the state credit card," said Vos and Nygren in a statement. "However, we have been clear that we would not support an increase in the gas tax. As soon as it became known that the governor changed his position and would not support an increase in registration fees, that option was taken off the table. To say that Assembly Republicans are now pressing for both of these revenue enhancers would be incorrect. In fact, Alberta Darling is being disingenuous in making that characterization."

Nygren and Vos said Assembly Republicans want to ensure any transportation cuts are felt equally throughout the state.

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"Under the Senate plan, outstate legislators would feel the brunt of the cuts and many in our caucus don’t feel that option is fair. We are advocating for the best possible budget for all of Wisconsin and not just one area of our state," they said.

Darling fired back, releasing a statement within the hour.

"I stand by my comments. There are more responsible solutions we must consider," she said in a statement.

Darling said she agrees with her Assembly colleagues that Walker has proposed too much bonding, and that it must be reduced. 

"I also agree with my Assembly colleagues that all areas of our state should share in any reductions in transportation projects. However, I believe this can be accomplished through a measured approach," Darling said. "Delaying the completion of the core of the Zoo Interchange could jeopardize safety would harm our state's economy. I won't let safety and our economy be used as bargaining chips."

The budget committee, which had hoped to finish its work before Memorial Day, hasn’t met since May 29.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.